The state's foremost thylacine obsessive is adamant that the recently destroyed Churchill's Hut, one of the most significant tiger-related sites in Tasmania, was the real deal.
That's despite ongoing contention that the hut was erroneously listed in the Tasmanian Heritage Register.
Col Bailey, 81, of New Norfolk, is originally from South Australia. In 1967, he was canoeing at Coorong Lagoon, south-east of Adelaide, when he spotted a "weird-looking animal that looked like a dog".
"I paddled to around 200 metres from it and watched it for several minutes," Bailey said. "It was walking up and down along the lagoon. I watched it for some minutes and I thought, 'This is not a dog. What is it?'"
"And when I went back to Meningie, which was the nearest town, to get some petrol, I asked the bloke at the servo.
"He said, 'Oh, you've seen the Tasmanian tiger'. And I said, 'They're all extinct'.
"[But] he got my interest up."
This prompted Bailey, a former landscape gardener, to devote himself to researching the tiger, declared extinct in 1986. He's been at it now for more than 50 years but only moved to Tasmania with his wife Lex in 1990. It was then that he started looking for the tiger "fair dinkum".
In 1995, the intrepid Bailey got a tip-off that a thylacine was roaming the Weld Valley near Huonville.
"I'd tried for several years to get in there," he said. "The bush was so thick."
"I [eventually] got through. And one morning I ran into it.
"So I've been a strong advocate [for the idea] that [the tiger is] not extinct - it's still here."
But Bailey kept the sighting to himself for 17 years, until he published his second book on the tiger Shadow of the Thylacine.
"Lex didn't even know [I'd seen it] and she got a bit rotten with me," he said.
"And I said, 'Well, better a love affair with a Tassie tiger than another woman'.
"To protect it, I didn't want people knowing."
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Bailey said he was getting too old to continue looking for the tiger himself.
"The bush is too dangerous - especially the places I want to go," he said.
"And my legs are going a bit funny on me.
"I haven't got the strength that I had 20-30 years ago."
Bailey said the "breakthrough" in the early stages of his research into the thylacine came in 1969, when he conducted a phone interview with the late tiger trapper Elias Churchill.
The diminutive Churchill caught the last captive thylacine near Adamsfield, a now-abandoned osmiridium mining outpost in the state's remote south-west. Benjamin, as the tiger came to be known, was sold to the Hobart Zoo, where he died in 1936.
It was in a hut built by Churchill that Benjamin was kept before he was transported to Hobart via the Fitzgerald railway station.
"[Churchill] was the man who knew about the tiger," Bailey said. "He was free with his information but he was a rough old bloke."
"Every second word was unprintable. But he was a good old bloke."
Five years later, Churchill was dead. And he left behind an indelible legacy - one inextricably linked to that of the Tasmanian tiger. For this reason, Churchill is an important figure in the natural history of the tiger, which has captured the hearts and minds of so many people.
And it's his hut that has endured as arguably the key site in this natural history.
Back in 2006, a "bunch of greenies" came to Bailey and told him of an extraordinary discovery they'd made.
Escorting him to thick bushland near Tim Shea in the Florentine Valley, they led Bailey to a dilapidated old hut.
Nailed to the side of the structure was a sign put there by Forestry Tasmania. It announced, as if to Bailey himself, that this was the hut Churchill built about 1925.
"I recognised it straight away for what it was," he said.
"And I got onto the Forestry people and they agreed to put an exclusion zone around it because they were going to start blasting dynamite in the trees.
[Churchill] was free with his information but he was a rough old bloke.Col Bailey
"They agreed if I could get a heritage listing on it, they'd save it."
In his endeavour to get the hut heritage-listed, however, an obstacle stood in Bailey's way - a Queensland "crocodile hunter" questioned the validity of the site.
"A man named Joe Bredl ... came over here to do a documentary," Bailey said. "And he took this fella out to the hut because he knew where it was and it was hard to find."
"And here he is saying, 'Yes, this is Churchill's Hut where the last tiger was brought'.
"And then he backtracked and said it wasn't when this all came to light. That threw a spanner in the works and got [the Tasmanian Heritage Council] doubting what [the hut] was."
Eventually, though, Bailey's efforts paid off. The hut was listed in the register in 2007.
Then, 12 years later, it burned down in the devastating 2019 summer bushfires in Southern Tasmania.
"I was pretty sad about it [because of] all the work I put in and the significance of [the hut] - what it meant not only to me but to other people," Bailey said.
In April this year, it was revealed that the Parks and Wildlife Service was estimated to have spent $20,000 of taxpayers' money trying to protect the hut from the fires.
But, through right to information documents obtained by The Examiner, it came to light that esteemed historian Nic Haygarth, who works at Heritage Tasmania, had raised numerous concerns with senior staff that this was not the real Churchill's Hut.
Haygarth has said the actual Churchill's Hut was likely destroyed years ago and that the location of the hut found by Bailey did not match up with historical records. He also says it didn't resemble the only surviving photo of Churchill's Hut, a photo which Bailey argues isn't of the original hut.
Bailey remains adamant that the hut he came across in 2006 was legitimate. He said it appeared exactly as Churchill had described it to him back in 1969.
"[Churchill] said they had a drying shed out the back and an old bush toilet, of course, and then they had a pit where they used to throw all their scraps and bones and stuff," Bailey said. "I looked around and you could see the indentation in the ground where a lot of this stuff had been."
"So it all tied in."
Bailey said he was disappointed that uncertainty around the hut's provenance was now being "dragged up again".
"No-one can prove one thing or another, really," he said.
"I can't prove it no more than the naysayers can prove it."
A Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson said there weren't currently plans to rebuild Churchill's Hut following its destruction.
"However the PWS recognises the significance of the hut and area to a range of parks users," the spokesperson said.
"The PWS is willing to discuss proposals by other user groups in regard to the future of the site that are in line with management of the area."
The [Parks and Wildlife Service] is willing to discuss proposals by other user groups in regard to the future of the site that are in line with management of the area.Parks and Wildlife Service spokesperson
Architectural historian Andrew Steen, a lecturer at the University of Tasmania, said Haygarth's argument "seems very sound".
"In some senses, the hut's genuine relation to Churchill is beside the point," Steen said. "The building supported a mythological narrative that contributed - in a rather curious way - to Tasmanian culture."
"From my perspective, any money spent to conserve the building referred to as Churchill's Hut was wasted, and any plans to rebuild would be folly.
"There is heritage in every honest construction and every place - but false heritage, or fake history, has very limited architectural value."